View random article

What Is the Hymen?

The hymen is a partial barrier of thin tissue across the opening of the vagina in women. It’s purpose is unknown, but various cultures and religions have associated it with virginity, sexual purity and the passage into womanhood through sexual activity.

Hymens differ from woman to woman and are as distinct as fingerprints or ear shapes. Some women are born without a hymen. Most young females have a hymen, but numerous activities can cause it to tear away. These activities include some sporting activities, horse riding, tampon use, medical examination and any vaginal penetration. Some women experience minor discomfort and some loss of blood. There are women, however, whose hymen is so strong that it can remain intact even through childbirth. Some women with strong, large and tight hymens find that their hymen totally blocks entrance into the vagina. They can request surgery to have the hymen cut open as it can be so extreme that it blocks menstrual flow and other vaginal secretions.

Certain cultures and religions use the hymen’s presence to prove a woman’s virginity and often place value upon the hymen as an indicator of the woman’s worth, her moral standing and worthiness in marriage. Without the hymen, it is assumed that the woman has been sexually active. In legal cases against sex offenders who engaged with minors, a hymen test is carried out on the minors.

Euphemisms for the hymen exist; it is referred to as the maidenhead or the cherry in reference to the blood after it has broken.

Featured in Health